Reaching the top of the stairs, which is no small feat without calf muscles, Maurice knocks on the door of apartment 403, not knowing what he could possibly say to explain the situation to Ramona. For fuck’s sake, just lay it out, I suggest in my inimitable way. He doesn’t seem to be listening, as usual. We were in this fix because he had wanted to buy Ramona a diamond ring. He knew, without having been told, that any profession of matrimonial devotion unaccompanied by a sizable rock would fall on deaf ears. He doesn’t want to lose her, but for a woman described by her closest friends as one crazy bitch, she is something of a traditionalist, so Maurice has run against the Green Man to raise the cash. Look where that has got us.
He hears a sound behind the door, and steels himself for the confrontation. This isn’t going to be pretty, I can tell you that for nothing. The door opens, and yet it’s not Ramona there to greet us. Slowly, I take in the stranger. He is a mildly fat man in a three-piece dark blue suit, sporting a pencil-thin, neatly trimmed moustache over a wide smile. He is balding, and has combed a thin skein of hair over his pate. Maurice and I both simultaneously think something like ‘what the fuck now?’, but before Maurice can react, the man starts speaking.
‘Why Maurice! I’m glad you are finally here,’ says the man, who has clearly been expecting him. Maurice stands at the threshold, and for a moment says nothing. He is apparently becoming tired of the unexpected, and I suppose I can’t blame him for that.
‘Where’s Ramona?’ he finally asks, in that rasping, clipped tone. It comes out as ‘airs anona’, but somehow the fat man has no trouble understanding him.
‘Why, she has just stepped out for a while. No doubt she will be back with us shortly. But there is no need for formality here – why don’t you step inside?’ At this the man steps back, sweeping his arm in a wide, welcoming gesture. Maurice shuffles inside, and the man closes the door.
‘First things first,’ he says. ‘My name is Portland. Mr. Oliver Rockefeller Portland the Third. And, as I am sure you are wondering why I am here, I will assuage your curiosity with little delay. There are just a few things to clear up first.’
At this Mr. Oliver Rockefeller Portland pulls out a small black notebook and pencil. Licking the tip of the pencil, he gazes at Maurice, pausing as if for effect. ‘Now, Maurice, before we can get down to business, I have three questions for you. Please answer them truthfully. Your answers matter a great deal. Do you understand?’
Confused at this turn of events, but I suppose unable to offer any kind of rebuttal, Maurice nods his bony skull.
‘Alright then. Question one: When you were engaged in your little game of strip poker, did you actually see inside the Green Man’s big blue safe?’
Maurice thinks for a moment, and then shakes his head. ‘No’.
Mr. Portland stares at Maurice for a long moment. ‘I see’, he says finally. ‘Question two: Do you know who the Green Man is?’
This time Maurice doesn’t hesitate. ‘Everyone knows who the Green Man is. He’s the boss of this town.’ I can’t help agreeing. He’s the Green Man, for Christ’s sake. He’s run this town for years.
At this Mr. Portland shakes his head impatiently. ‘I know who he is known to be, and what he does, as you say’, he says. ‘What I am asking you is a simpler question – do you know who he is?’
It seems that Maurice can see the point, if not what difference it makes. ‘I suppose the answer is no’, he says.
‘Ah-ha!’ cries Portland. ‘Now we are getting somewhere!’
‘This leads me to my last question. I understand that this might seem like a foolish question, but ask it I must. Maurice: do you want to stay dead, or would you rather be reunited with your skin, flesh, organs and solitary lost left eye? I urge you to think carefully before answering, Maurice. Being dead has its advantages, after all.’
Maurice does indeed think this is a stupid question, but then, he hasn’t really thought of himself as dead yet, even though I know it to be true. He thinks of himself as severely disadvantaged in the body department, and thought of fondly by stray dogs, but not dead. Then again, he has seen his own beating heart dropped into a steel bucket in the Green Man’s gaming house, so he has to concede that perhaps the fat man has a point.
‘I don’t want to stay dead’, he says, finally.
Oliver Rockefeller Portland snaps shut his little black notebook, and an even wider smile splits his face. ‘Excellent. Yes, that’s excellent. Now to allow myself a proper introduction. I have told you my name, but not my function. I, Maurice, am a Fixer. And your situation, my dear Maurice, sorely needs to be fixed. I am here to help.’
Of course, this declaration is only illuminating up to a point. Maurice might be a fucking idiot (almost certainly is one, in my humble opinion), but he isn’t an imbecile, and life has taught him one or two things. One of those things is this: people didn’t just turn up unannounced and offer to ‘fix’ your problems, no matter how pleasant it might be to think they would. There is a price attached to this deal, and in an uncharacteristic show of good sense, it seems Maurice wants to know what it is before this goes any further.
‘You say you’re a fixer, and that’s very nice, but what’s in it for you? What do you care about me? After all, as you say - I’m already dead.’
Mr. Portland nods his head. ‘Right down to business! I like that. Of course, you want to know the price. Everything has a price, yes? It makes sense that you would want to know. I certainly would in your position’, says Portland. ‘The thing is, though, in this particular instance I am not at liberty to disclose the price of the transaction, which in any case is nothing for you to worry about, as someone else will be paying the bill. Isn’t that good news, Maurice? The Fixer gets to fix things, and the bill is covered by….well, I can’t tell you by whom. But suffice to say that their credit is good with me. Everyone is a winner!’
Maurice doesn’t appear to think much of this as an answer, and nor do I. ‘That all seems pretty cozy, but it sounds like I end up owing someone one hell of a favour, and I like to know what I am getting myself in for. Even assuming you can get my guts, flesh, skin and left eye off the Green Man somehow, and I doubt that you can, and assuming you can put me back together, I don’t think I want to take this on. I mean, thanks and all that, but perhaps I am better off dead. I seem to be doing ok today.’ I’m not sure I agree with this last assessment, but I let it go.
Mr. Oliver Rockefeller Portland stops smiling for the first time since he appeared around the door moments ago. ‘Oh dear’, he says. ‘Oh dear, my client thought that you might not see the upside to the deal. This is regrettable, but he has taken certain steps to…assist you to see the light. You see, I told you a little white lie when you first arrived here. Ramona won’t be joining us shortly. In fact, if you wish to see her alive again, I strongly urge you to agree to our deal.’ Portland seems to genuinely regret this turn of events, but after a moment he brightens, and says ‘Think, Maurice! You get your skin back, you come back into possession of both of your eyes, and Ramona is delivered safe and well. You’ve nothing to lose! Go on, take the deal.’
Perhaps it’s the lack of flesh and muscle that makes Maurice feel so weak in that moment. Perhaps it’s the fact that he realizes that life has, once again, backed him into a corner, offering only one way out – another debt, this time of unknown proportions, to an unknown party. Whatever the reason, it seems that he knows we are beaten.
Only then does it occur to me to wonder how news of Maurice’s losing streak has traveled faster than Maurice could on his own two bony legs. Another mystery to throw on the pile, I guess. To Mr. Oliver Rockefeller Portland, he simply says, ‘I accept your offer.’
‘Wonderful. You won’t regret it’, says Portland, but Maurice already does. I might only be his right eye, but I can tell.